It has to share the Halloween spotlight with costumes, ghost stories and apple-bobbing, but everybody’s favorite sweet treat gets all the attention on Oct. 28, National Chocolate Day. What better way to celebrate than curl up with a glass of hot cocoa and plan a chocolate-themed getaway? Virtuoso-preferred suppliers have some great tours that offer a taste of the sweet life.
Here in the U.S., there’s no sweeter place than The Hotel Hershey just down the street from Hershey’s Chocolate World in Pennsylvania. There you can delight your senses at the chocolate tasting experience or be proactive and create your own candy bar.
In New York, Beyond Times Square lets you get your hands dirty during its three-hour History of Chocolate program. Join director of the Big Chocolate Show and culinary historian Alexandra Leaf as she walks you through chocolate’s origins in Mesoamerica to today’s practices and learn what separates the top tier from mass-produced bars. Once you’re educated in the finer points, you’ll use that newfound knowledge in a tasting session that will no doubt satisfy your sweet tooth.
Chocolate has been part of the Mesoamerican diet for thousands of years, and exploring the magic of the cacao bean on its home turf is a great learning experience. On the Guatemala’s Jungles, Jaguars & Peanut Butter weeklong family journey by Big Five Tours & Expeditions, chocolate doesn’t get top billing, but there is an entire afternoon devoted to a hands-on exploration of cocoa. You’ll brew, toast and grind a tasty creation that you get to enjoy one hour later. Two days after the cocoa class, you make your own peanut butter. It’s the perfect combination!
Most of the world’s “fine flavor” — the good stuff — cacao comes from Ecuador. Just as microclimates make for the perfect conditions for grape-growing in top wine regions, Ecuador has the right terroir for delicious cacao. Learn how to pick the best pods for making world-renowned Mashpi chocolate at Mashpi Lodge or do one of the biweekly tastings at Casa Gangotena. Sign up for Ladatco’s Culinary Ecuador tour, and you can do both, along with finding the right coffee and wine to pair with your chocolate.
When it comes to the finished product, there’s no chocolate like Swiss chocolate. And there’s no tour quite like Bucher Travel’s private chocolate workshop at the Lindt Factory. Become a maître chocolatier and produce your own Champagne truffles and enrobed pralinés that are exquisitely packaged for the journey home — if you can wait that long. Book the chocolate package at Brussels’ Hotel Amigo and you’ll not only receive the standard Virtuoso amenities, but you’ll also have special chocolate amenities in the room and a workshop with maître chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud. Afterward, unwind from your busy day with Amigo’s chocolate afternoon tea, served daily from 3:30-6 p.m. With the hotel’s great location next to the beautiful Grand Place, you’re also just steps away from the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate.
In France, Chocolatine offers all sorts of innovative tours, but the company certainly lives up to its name with its chocolate and pastry walking tour, gourmet chocolate class and private chocolate workshop in Paris. It’s hard to get more Parisian than strolling through the 17th arrondissement, pain au chocolat in hand, ducking in and out of sweets shops.
Across the English Channel, you can spend half a day on Abercrombie & Kent’s London chocolate tour, featuring select shops, chocolate making and tastings of exotic creations such as chilli chocolate. There’s even a cocoa break to reward all your hard work. Family Twist’s All Things Chocolate tour traces the roots of England’s deep love for the cocoa bean and how Cadbury went from small family business to worldwide giant, all while you cut, dip and decorate your own creations with the whole family.
Visitors to Italy’s Umbria region know it’s nearly impossible to leave without sampling the famous Baci Perugina, a treat so popular it has made the town of Perugia the home to the Eurochocolate Festival each October. IC Bellagio and Onirikos offer tours that recreate the festival experience on a private scale, allowing you to delight your taste buds with chocolate liqueur and kebabs and discover how chocolatier Luisa Spagnoli turned a small treat into a love note delivery system for her paramour and inadvertently created one of the world’s favorite candies. Life doesn’t get much sweeter than that!